“Would you care for another piece of pie, Annie,” John inquired, holding a forkful of apple pie in front of Annie’s mouth.
“Thank you, but no. I think I might burst if I eat another morsel,” Annie replied, squelching the desire to wretch. Dinner had been a lavish affair that had lasted for hours. Course after course had been flourished to the immaculately set table. Annie made sure to sample a bit of everything. However, with her binding clothing, each bite made her feel as if she would burst. Right now, the thought of eating another bite literally made her want to puke.
“Very well,” John replied, then promptly ate the pie.
“So, Miss Johnson,” it was Madison Carter that addressed her, “John tells us you fled here from Boston.” Madison carter was a lovely young woman. Annie estimated her age to be relatively close to her own. She had shiny blonde hair and blue eyes. Her complexion was fair and flawless. Despite her best efforts, Annie had found herself warming to Madison. The feeling had apparently been mutual because she and Madison had chatted incessantly in the hour preceding dinner. Noah Carter appeared to be a couple years older than his wife. Beyond that fact they appeared to have nothing in common. While his wife displayed a natural exuberance and vitality, Noah was quiet, almost to the point of being shy. He was not unattractive. He had dark brown, almost black hair, and eyes the color of whiskey. Despite his quiet nature, Annie could tell through the looks he gave Madison that he truly did love his wife.
“Yes. The situation was entirely too dangerous for those loyal to King George. After my brother left to join the King’s Army there was nothing left for me. I had no protection whatsoever.” The lie left her lips easily.
“Surely your brother could have stayed with you. It seems terribly irresponsible to leave such a lovely young lady in a hostile place without an ounce of protection.”
“Oh, Luke did offer to stay. But I insisted that he go and fight for his principles. Besides, Mary and Amos kindly offered to look after me until this dreadful conflict is over. I am incredibly proud of my brother, for all that he is doing to defend the good name of King George,” Annie declared.
“Well, it is very noble of you to release your brother to the cause. The world could use more women like you, my dear Annie,” John replied, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze. Annie smiled back at him.
“I will toast to that,” Madison replied.
Annie gave a faint nod and a smile. She was unused to having so much attention focused on her. Truthfully it made her uncomfortable. Sensing her discomfort, John stood. “Well after such a wonderful meal I know I could definitely use some air,” he declared, then offered his hand to Annie. “Would you do me the honor of joining me Annie?”
Grateful for a change in topic Annie heartily accepted. Anything to get herself away from the mounds of food in front of her. “I would love to John.”
“Wonderful,” he exclaimed, then helped Annie from her seat. They walked out of the house onto the patio by the sitting room.
“That meal was wonderful, but entirely too heavy for a summer night,” John said once they were out of earshot of their hosts.
“I completely agree. I felt as if I would explode if I sat at that table another moment. Thank you for rescuing me,” Annie laughed.
“It was my pleasure. I would love to rescue you anytime you find in necessary.”
“I will keep that in mind.”
“Would you care to take a walk with me Annie?”
“It would be my pleasure.”
John interlaced his fingers with Annie’s and led her through the immaculately manicured garden of the Carter’s home. The garden reminded her of gardens she had toured when she went to England. Annie’s grandparents had surprised her and Katelyn with a trip to The British Isles as part of their high school graduation present. The two of them had spent two glorious months seeing all the sights that Great Britain had to offer. They traveled through England, Scotland, and even made it to Ireland. It had been the best trip of Annie’s life.
“You have been unusually quiet tonight Annie. Is something troubling you?” John’s question interrupted her memory.
“No, not at all. I’m just enjoying our wonderful surroundings,” Annie lied. In truth, something was plaguing her mind, but it was not a subject that she could broach with John, because the very thing plaguing her mind was another man, a man that John believed was merely an acquaintance of Annie’s: Cameron. Cameron had arrived at the party a half hour after she and John had. She had been quite successful in treating Cameron as a friend, and while he had gone through the motions, Annie felt that her performance had far outshone his. Fortunately, no one else noticed his odd behavior. Of course she had been in a hyper-vigilant state all evening. Luckily, Annie had been relieved of having to make small talk with Cameron. John had been glued to her side all night along with Mrs. Carter. Still, throughout the night, Annie had felt Cameron’s gaze on her, although she never looked in fear of actually seeing his stare and alerting others to it.
“As long as you are happy, I am happy,” John replied with a smile.
Annie smiled back and they continued their walk. Annie felt a stitch creep up her side. Damn these clothes she thought to herself. The first thing she was going to do when she got home was burn this damn corset and dress. She thought about asking John if they could go back inside and sit down, but dismissed the idea. She finally had him alone and now would be the perfect time to pry him for information. Pushing her pain to the back of her mind, she decided to begin her questioning.
“Actually John, there is something bothering me tonight,” Annie admitted.
“Oh, and what is that my dear?” His voice was filled with tenderness. For the first time since she had arrived in the city, Annie felt a pang of guilt in her mission. John had been nothing but kind to her. Perhaps a little solicitous, but kind nonetheless. But the task set before her had to be completed.
“This whole war is truly distressing. I miss my brother and my home immensely,” she whispered.
“I can understand that completely, my dear Annie,” he replied.
“I just wish we could find a way to end it sooner, so that life may go back to normal,” she whimpered, tears clouding her eyes.
“I feel your pain Annie. Every day I search for a way to end this insurrection. And I promise you, I am getting close. Why, if I have my way, this war will be over by the middle of next year at the latest. Then everything will be back to normal,” he assured her.
“How will you accomplish such an ambitious feat,” Annie inquired innocently. She allowed two tears to fall down her cheeks.
“I wish I could tell you Annie, I really do, but I cannot. My hands are tied by military protocol,” he assured her. “Trust me, Annie, I will find a way to end this.”
“All right,” Annie replied.
John pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed at the tears in Annie’s eyes. “Now stop your crying,” the command was soft, tender. “You are far too precious to be sad.”
Annie nodded, swallowed her tears, then gave John a reassuring smile. “I’m fine now. Thank you for your comfort.”
“Anytime,” he replied. Without warning he lowered his head to Annie’s and gave her a chaste kiss. When he raised his head, Annie saw the blatant look of desire in his eyes. Tonight was not the night though. She had far too much on her mind, far too much to sort through. Besides, she had gotten all the information she would get from him tonight.
“Perhaps we should go back inside. It is getting late.”
“Yes, of course. You do looked peaked my dear. It has been a long day for you, has it not?”
Annie nodded, “Yes.”
“Very well, we will say our goodbyes and I will escort you home.” They made their way back to the house and found everyone gathered in the sitting room enjoying coffee and brandy.
“There you two are. I was about to send out a search party,” Madison laughed. “Now, would you please join us for coffee and brandy? Perhaps you could play the piano for us Major Andre?”
“I would love to Mrs. Carter, but it will have to wait until another night. Miss Johnson has had quite a long day and I am anxious to get her home,” he explained.
“Of course,” Madison replied with a sympathetic look on her face. “In fact, it is getting rather late. Perhaps it is time for all of us to retire.”
Madison and Noah walked Annie and John to the door. Annie thanked them for a wonderful evening and promised to see them again soon. John bowed and politely thanked their hosts for an enchanting evening, then he escorted Annie to the carriage. The carriage ride home was quiet. John sat next to Annie, rather than across as he usually did. He rubbed small, comforting circles on her back throughout the whole ride. Much to Annie’s chagrin, she found herself enjoying his touch. When they arrived at the boardinghouse, John helped her from the carriage and escorted her to the door.
“Will I see you at the coffee shop tomorrow,” he asked. He actually sounded a tad insecure.
“Good. I had a wonderful time tonight Annie. Perhaps we can do it again sometime soon.”
“I would be delighted,” she replied.
“Well, goodnight Annie. I will see you tomorrow,” he replied then gave her a soft kiss goodnight.
“Until tomorrow,” Annie replied then walked into the boardinghouse. Once inside she rushed up the stairs and into her room, locking the door behind her. She had a note to prepare and deliver. She changed out of her dress and into the dark breeches, shirt, and boots that Cameron had acquired for her. Quickly she scribbled down the coded note:
ephli 376 471 684 wpopqyp riluqp.
The coded note roughly translated to:
Andre making plan with unknown source.
The note was short and sweet. With the note complete, Annie took her phone and gun, shoving both into her pockets and tip-toed out of the boardinghouse and into the darkness. The walk to the drop was not long. It took her less than ten minutes to reach her destination. Once there, she wove her way through the thicket of trees until she reached the one she wanted. She pressed the folded note into the small hole in the tree and walked away.
She was about to step out of the thicket and onto the street when she heard a twig snap behind her. Without a second thought, she hid behind a thick tree, pulled out her gun, and released the safety. Despite her rapidly beating heart and constricted breathing, Annie managed to focus on her surroundings. Footsteps sounded in the leaves on the ground, moving steadily towards her. Annie clasped her hand over her mouth in an attempt to silence her breathing. The footsteps stopped a few feet from her. Annie shivered and held her breath. Finally the steps resumed, moving farther away from Annie with each passing second. After a minute, Annie was convinced that she was alone. Quickly she darted to the edge of the thicket and into the deserted street.
A shot rang out in the darkness. Annie felt a sharp pain in her arm. She cried out. From inside the thicket she heard a voice with a deep British accent call out, “Stop!”
Annie did not comply. Instead she turned in the direction of the voice and shot off two rounds. She did not stop to see if they had hit anyone. Running as fast as she could, she ducked through dark alleyways, slowing every once in a while to make sure she was not being followed. Satisfied that she was alone, Annie dashed back to the boardinghouse and snuck in the back door. The house was dark and quiet. Annie climbed the stairs towards her room. Once inside she assessed the seriousness of her wound. The bullet appeared to be wedged in her arm. A piece of fabric was missing and there was quite a bit of blood. Annie began to felt woozy. With the adrenaline that had fueled her for the past few minutes wearing off, the impact of the shot began to set in. Annie knew that she needed help otherwise she would be in deep trouble. She grabbed her bag then considered her options. She could wake Amos and Mary and ask them for their help. She dismissed the idea quickly. If she woke them she would have to explain the contents of her bag to them. The only other option was Cameron. Quickly she snuck out of her room and into the hall. She stumbled up the stairs to Cameron’s room and knocked on the door.